SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Below-freezing temperatures, icy windshield wipers, poor visibility and birds seeking shelter in nooks and crannies did not deter participants in the 38th annual Western Macomb Christmas Bird Count Dec. 14.
At the tally, held at the Stony Creek Nature Center Saturday evening, around 40 birders warmed up with a potluck dinner and compiled a rough draft of 53 species of birds.
The official count will not be available until January — the number of species is generally in the 60s. The count helps the National Audubon Society track population trends.
Ten groups covered sections within a 15-mile diameter portion of Macomb County — driving, walking and monitoring bird feeders.
Barb Baldinger, the compiler of the Western Macomb Christmas Bird Count, said her group of four drove 75 miles and walked 2 1/2 miles through wooded areas, although she said they had to keep stopping their vehicle to clear ice off the windshield wipers.
“Going through subdivisions, sometimes I couldn’t tell where the road was, so I just tried to keep it between the mail boxes,” Baldinger said.
She said she also thought a church parking lot wrapped around the building.
“Next thing you know, I jumped the curb and I was on the grass going toward the nativity set,” she said. “So I had to back up real fast.”
Baldinger added that her group spotted several turkeys on a road, followed by more, and estimated the flock totaled 30 turkeys overall.
Among the participants was Tom Heatley, a veteran birder and nature photographer, who said he has been birding on all seven continents, in all 50 states and through much of Canada. He just flew in from a birding trip to Brazil.
“The birds were few and far betwixt,” Heatley said. “(I went) from 90 degree weather with 90 percent humidity to this. It was so cold, we didn’t walk where we’d normally walk. I had a heavy coat on and I was still shaking.”
The American Birding Association’s young birder of 2012, 18-year-old Marie McGee, of Clinton Township, was also in attendance. She said this was her fourth year participating in the Christmas Bird Count and that her dad fostered her interest in birding.
Jennifer Andersen and her husband, Jeff Steinmetz, participated in the count for the first time after getting involved with nature center volunteer birding expert Ruth Glass’s monthly bird walks.
Anderson said she and her husband enjoyed the count because it combines being outdoors, giving back to nature, socializing, and working with science. She added that she was pleased to see a kingfisher, kinglets and red-tailed hawks.
“I think we saw something like 985 birds today,” Andersen said. “One of my favorite things, just from a girly perspective, was the robins. … Because it was so cold, their orange bellies were all puffy and fluffy, and they were completely round. It was adorable.”
Glass collected a tally sheet from Shirley and Walt Geno, a couple who have participated in a feeder count for more than a decade and monitor activity from a turret addition to their home on Mount Vernon Road. They recorded 11 species and more than 50 individual birds.
“It’s not just the feeders (that bring in so many birds to the Genos’ yard) — it’s the habitat,” Glass said, adding that the cover and seed-producing foliage attracts birds, as well as their fertile pond and wood duck boxes.
A highlight of the count for many birders is the sighting of arctic birds that are only seen locally during the winter, such as winter finches, rough-legged hawks, northern shrikes and snowy owls.
A ripple of excitement coursed through the tally when Baldinger called out snow bunting, and one group saw a large flock of them near 27 Mile and Teller roads.
For more information about the Christmas Bird Count or how it helps the National Audubon Society, visit www.birds.audubon.org.
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